The legendary Audrey Hepburn left a legacy that’s still renowned today by actors and fans alike. And Audrey: More Than An Icon, a new revealing documentary about the actress’ personal life, has the media buzzing. Plus Hepburn’s descendant, Emma Ferrer, gave an interview concerning the documentary – and it’s fair to say things got teary-eyed.
So who exactly is Emma, and what’s her relationship to the late, great Hepburn? Well, she’s actually the actress’ granddaughter, although Emma never got to meet her famous grandparent. Because Hepburn passed away a year before Emma was born. The actress originally married fellow thespian Mel Ferrer, although their relationship didn’t last.
Because Hepburn divorced Mel after 14 years of marriage. During that time they had a child together called Sean Hepburn Ferrer who, in turn, fathered Emma. And while Hepburn’s legacy is a big one to live up to, Emma’s a celebrity in her own right. Even so, her career got a major boost in 2014.
That’s right: Emma is an actress, artist, assistant director and model. But a photoshoot she did for Harper’s Bazaar in 2014 introduced her to the world. The pictures spread across the internet, an occurrence that was boosted by Emma’s similarity to Hepburn. She bore the family resemblance not just in looks, but mannerisms, too.
While Emma didn’t meet her grandmother, as a relation she no doubt had family insight into Hepburn’s life. This is certainly the case judging by her recent publicity for Audrey: More Than An Icon. Because the granddaughter had an interview with Harper’s Bazaar in January 2021 that shed some revealing insights into Hepburn’s life.
During her discussion, Emma indicated that life wasn’t all glamor and success for Hepburn. In fact, there was an undercurrent of sorrow behind the cameras and curtains. The subject touched Emma to such an extent that she couldn’t hold back a flood of emotion. Yet, in contrast, Hepburn hid her secrets well during her time as a Hollywood legend.
Older film fans – and even some younger ones – will need no introduction to Audrey Hepburn. But for those of you who do, who was she, and why is she still such a big deal? Well, the Belgian-born English actress-slash-model was a huge star in her day, on all levels.
But let’s begin by looking at her hugely successful film career. She began acting in TV in 1949, but her breakthrough role came a few years later. Hepburn put in an Oscar-winning performance as a princess on the run for the 1953 Hollywood film Roman Holiday. There was no stopping her after that.
Hepburn enchanted viewers with her talent, beauty and style. Men wanted to be with her, women wanted to be her and, presumably in some cases, vice versa. And every few years Hepburn starred in another Hollywood hit. In 1954 she was the leading female in the fairytale-like Sabrina. In 1957 Hepburn played a model for the now-famous Funny Face.
Hepburn lent life to the characters she played, proving herself a versatile actress across a spectrum of genres. Her roles were nuanced, and she was the go-to person for individual yet amiable female leads. Perhaps one of her best known roles was as the social high-flyer in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
To give some context to how famous Hepburn was at this point, Truman Capote – who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s – originally saw Marilyn Monroe in the role. To top off her illustrious acting career, she’s one of those rare actors that has an EGOT. Don’t worry, it’s a good thing.
Because EGOT stands for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony – the four most famous entertainment awards. Only 14 people have managed to win all of them, and Hepburn is one of them. Entertainment Weekly even voted her as the 21st greatest movie star ever. There’s more to Hepburn’s success than acting, though.
Hepburn was also an incredibly talented person in other fields. For example, the star spoke Italian, French, Dutch, Spanish and English fluently. It didn’t just help with her career, either ‒ it enhanced her other work, too. Because she was also a big name in fashion and dancing in addition to being a renowned philanthropist.
That’s right: Hepburn was considered an inspirational icon in her personal life. And she made considerable financial contributions to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and visited other countries in its stead personally. Plus she earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President George Bush in 1992.
Plus did you know Hepburn donated the proceeds of her last three movies to the charity? Today, she’d be comparable to the likes of famous idols such as Dolly Parton or Beyoncé. But Taylor Swift and Angelina Jolie among others have cited Hepburn as one of their inspirations, too.
Despite her great fame, though, Hepburn managed to keep her private life just that – private. No wonder Audrey: More Than An Icon is such a hot topic, then. Because it provides some fascinating, never-before-seen insights into the person behind the idol. But what Emma Ferrer discovered may surprise some of her grandmother’s fans.
Yet what do we already know about Hepburn’s incredible life? To say she had a hard childhood growing up is an understatement. In her wartime youth, Hepburn didn’t have anything to eat but tulip bulbs. It wasn’t the last time she’d be associated with the flower, though.
Because tulips came back into Hepburn’s life in 1990 thanks to the Netherlands Flower Information Society (NFIS). The botanists developed a beautiful white hybrid tulip and named it Audrey Hepburn. According to Biography.com, NFIS described the decision as “a tribute to the actress’s career and her longtime work on behalf of UNICEF.” Touching.
Considering such humble beginnings, it’s even more impressive how high Hepburn climbed. Her connections reached as high as congress. Before John F. Kennedy became president, for instance, he was a senator and as a single man he and Hepburn dated. Their relationship wasn’t serious and didn’t last long, but they would reunite later under different circumstances.
Remember how we said Hepburn took Marilyn Monroe’s place as lead actress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Well, she shared another link with her contemporary starlet, too. Just like Marilyn, Hepburn sang President John F. Kennedy a “Happy Birthday” serenade. But the difference between their performances was noteworthy.
Marilyn was famous for her seductive public image, and her birthday song bore that trademark flair. Yet Hepburn sang her tribute to President Kennedy the year after Marilyn in her own refined style, which isn’t nearly as well-remembered. And it was fitting for her classy image, of course. Still, “America’s Sweetheart” had another side to her private life.
It’s already been noted that Hepburn kept her personal life under wraps, and that includes some of her relationships. And one particular encounter she managed to keep private for a time was her romance with William Holden. The Hollywood stars began seeing each other while they filmed Sabrina, but there was one major problem.
Because Holden was already married to a woman called Ardis at the time. It wasn’t uncommon for Holden to date other women. In fact, he’d often introduce his girlfriends to Ardis. But she put up with him playing away from home because the encounters were usually fleeting. Yet Hepburn was real competition.
Holden made it clear that he would leave his wife for Hepburn if she wished. This time, though, it was Holden who was left high and dry. Because Hepburn wanted to start a family, and Holden couldn’t offer that. Actually, he’d had a vasectomy before he’d met her, and that was a deal-breaker.
Thus Hepburn dropped Holden like a hot potato, before finding comfort in the arms of Mel Ferrer. He shared the starlet’s wish for children, and the couple got engaged. Paramount used the news as cover to preserve Hepburn’s public image (and their own in the process). It meant Hepburn and Mel were forced to reveal their engagement to the world.
So the icon’s life certainly had depth. And that’s where Audrey: More Than An Icon comes in. The documentary compiles unreleased interviews from her friends and family revealing a side of Hepburn previously unseen. And Emma Ferrer’s insights are among them, as she spoke to Harper’s Bazaar in 2021.
Emma explained that the documentary’s director, Helena Coan, “really wanted to sort of deconstruct this myth of who [Audrey Hepburn] was.” So where do you even begin with such a monumental task? Well, at the beginning of course – with the star’s childhood. And Emma said that Hepburn’s past held a lot of pain.
In fact, during an interview for the documentary, just thinking about what Hepburn endured reduced Emma to tears. She recounted, “My dad said about my grandmother that the best-kept secret about Audrey is that she was sad. It really makes me sad to think about. I really think she just wanted love, and to be loved.”
“I think she got that in her life,” Emma continued. “But I don’t think she got that from a lot of people. You know, for the woman who is most loved in the world to have such a lack of love is so sad.” Apparently, such longing goes back to when Hepburn was a child.
During the documentary, Hepburn reveals the truth about her father in her own words. “My parents divorced when I was six,” she said in footage. “It certainly stayed with me for the rest of my life. My father leaving us left me insecure, for life perhaps.” And this apparently showed in Hepburn’s relationships.
Sean, the star’s son, told the documentary, “She [Hepburn] adored her father. There’s one photo of my mother with her father. The photo is just a candid shot probably taken by her mother, but you can tell how she adored him. Then he disappeared one day.”
Emma continued, “She really felt throughout her whole life the lack of her father. And I know that’s something she really struggled with. That wasn’t really fixed through her relationships at all. There were many difficult times with the relationships she did have.”
Harper’s Bazaar asked Emma how she felt seeing her famous grandmother’s life laid bare. And although it seems to have stirred up some painful truths, Hepburn’s granddaughter is happy with the documentary. She thinks it makes her gran seem much more relatable on a human level, which will mean a lot to her fanbase.
“It’s really a valuable piece,” Emma said of the documentary. “Because there happened to be a lot of female and female-identifying people who are really huge fans of Audrey. And I think that some of the topics and the concepts put forward in the film are so sort of universally relatable, too, particularly to women and those who identify as women.”
That’s not the only way Hepburn connects with her admirers, though. Emma thinks the star looked her best when she was away from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. During her time with UNICEF, Hepburn wore casual clothes. And that was when she showed the world that behind the image, she was as human as everyone else.
Emma told Harper’s Bazaar, “When she went out into these developing countries, she was, like, in jeans and a polo shirt. And I really think that we can appreciate how rare it was for a celebrity of her magnitude to be seen in such a casual way.”
The star’s granddaughter added, “I really think that the message to take away from this is Audrey took pain and turned it into something really revolutionary. A lot of other people in her situation would have kind of just tried to numb that pain. She really used the empathy that derived from that pain to turn around.”
“She had the opportunity to make a big difference, because she was a big person, she was a big figure,” Emma said of her grandmother to Harper’s Bazaar. “But I still think that the impetus of using that empathy to really make a difference was so revolutionary for her time.”
Emma elaborated, “And it’s such a kind of blasé thing to say right now, but there really is the potential to do so much with pain and through pain. A lot of people have already reached out since they’ve seen the [documentary] to say that it was just what they needed to see.”
So why would that be? Emma told Harper’s Bazaar, “Because maybe they’re just struggling from feelings of being really insecure and they relate to her because of that, or whatever it is, it speaks to them.” In that respect, it would seem Hepburn left a legacy of helping others just as memorable as her illustrious career.